Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Le Monde 100: Swann's Way - Combray

Finishing the second part of Swann's Way leads me to, if not agree with, but, at least understand Evelyn Waugh's assessment of it as "raving" and Marcel Proust as a "mental defective," especially in the light of the pages and pages of prose that shoulder aside any real concern with plot. There is a desperation to Proust as he has a single minded obsession with triggering memories and experiencing the purest sensation of the initial recollection of a long forgotten moment.

Proust realizes that memories are subject to the Law of Diminishing Returns as each subsequent recollection of any long-lost moment will gradually wane in its ability to impart ecstasy. So the sheer size and depth of his description of detail is a method in itself to preserve those sentimental moments.

He literally lays out this cathartic need to preserve through writing due to the unpredictable instability of the human mind when dealing with the onset of an obsession over the future of the memory of three steeples against the backdrop of Combray. He writes down a long description of the scene after which he writes, "I had finished writing it, I found such a sense of happiness, felt that it had so entirely relieved my mind of the obsession of the steeples, and of the mystery which they concealed, that, as though I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice."

So, basically all 1.5 million words of Remembrance of Things Past are simply a long series of laid eggs.

But, who doesn't love eggs? Proust pushes out some amazing orbs of writing such as

"but what fascinated me would be the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world. I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare's Dream) at transforming my humble chamber into a bower of aromatic perfume."

And that's just asparagus!

Now, shall we push on through the rest of this book that suffers from the literary equivalent of gigantism? Let's!